Rivers have been getting a bad press recently. The start of the year saw Britain virtually submerged by rain as flooding and power outages, and 'river plains' become 2014’s water cooler topic. (No weak pun intended.)
Riverside pubs have always been somewhere to celebrate in the UK, but were probably seen as hazardous in the winter of rain-triggered discontent. However, as spring takes hold and the waters subside (in London anyway), river and coastal food and drinks establishments are flourishing.
The White Hart in Barnes is one of the more famous riverside pubs. According to my friend, Elaine, it’s either the Cambridge or Oxford 'home' pub in the annual boat race. Well, that narrows it down. Whichever university it is, you can see why. A beautiful Victorian boozer perched on Barnes’ banks of the Thames; it makes the most of its urban idyllic location. The ground floor is a good old-fashioned pub. The refurbished upstairs Terrace Kitchen is a bona fide restaurant. With stunning Thames views, and a glorious al-fresco balcony to take in your post dinner delights (not to mention a certain boat race), deciding to visit the White Hart is less about 'if', more about 'when'.
The menu is full of rustic rural delights, such as duck hearts, pickled shallots and broccoli shallots — and that’s just the starters. Elaine went for the cured smoked salmon with cucumber and wasabi ketchup, which worked much better than I thought it would. I tried the liquorice braised oxtail with watercress and sweet onion – an interesting choice as I don’t like liquorice and had never tried oxtail. It appeared, rather unexpectedly, as a savoury tart, but was simply delicious. The sweetness of the meat worked well with the aniseed flavour of the liquorice.
For mains we eschewed some of the more traditional plates and went for the pan-fried pigeon with date puree and hazelnuts, and the Ballotine of chicken with Laverstock Park (in Hampshire) mozzarella, pancetta, thyme croquettes and pickled baby vegetables. Elaine’s chicken was food-enviable in size and presentation, and it was cooked pretty damned well, too. My pigeon was done perfectly pink and balanced beautifully with the date and hazelnut accompaniments. If we had left it there it would have been a perfect meal, with great food and superb wine. However we succumbed to the desserts menu, and both opted for the plum and frangipane tart with orange cream. But rather than being served warm or at least at room temperature, it was straight from the fridge. This had the dual effect of inhibiting the fruit flavours, and solidifying the frangipane and tart base. You didn’t cut into the tart, you sawed and hacked at it. Sometimes it came away clean, sometimes it flicked across the plate.
Despite the dessert glitch, I liked the White Hart. Good food, lovely service and truly stunning river views. The latter of which is a reason in itself to visit; particularly now the rain has stopped.
The White Hart
The Terrace, Riverside, Barnes,
London SW13 0NR, United Kingdom
+44 20 8876 5177